The Beginning of the End of Violence

There’s a lot of talk in the US right now about violence; Where does it begin? Can it be avoided? Are violent video games and movies to silenceblame for recent spate of mass shootings? How do our current gun laws contribute to or prevent violence?

I have lots of opinions, but no answers. The only thing I am sure of is that it is a multifaceted problem, and one that will not be solved only through legislation or personal changes or societal changes, but rather a confluence of all three.

I recently downloaded an album* which contains a song with the lyric, “Will I ever know silence without mental violence?”. What a profound question and one that is probably not unfamiliar to folks who practice meditation or Yoga or anybody, really, who has sought to become aware of their inner dialogue.

I will venture to say that most, if not all of us, struggle with negative self-talk and thoughts that we may not consider to be violent but which are in fact unkind, unhelpful, and can be quite damaging. They go something like this: I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not good-looking enough, I don’t deserve this, I am unlovable.

According to yogic wisdom, the first and most important of the yamas and niyamas (the ethical guidelines for living) is ahimsa. Ahimsa is radical non-violence. Radical, as in fundamental and absolute. Non-violence means not doing harm to any living thing, in word, thought or deed, including towards ourselves. Of the three, not doing harm in thought is the most difficult.

Most people on this planet are good and operate with good intentions. We hear more often about the unfortunate and the bad because that’s what makes money. And why does it make money? Because we continue to consume it. Violence towards ourselves and others is something that we consume with abandon. I’m including in this not only the gloom and doom of the media and unquestionably violent entertainment, but also books and magazines that tell us to lose more weight or to change our hair style to appear more attractive to whomever we’d like to attract. The message coming at us from all sides is the same as the negative self-talk that we hear when we stop long enough to allow it. It is coming from within and from without and it’s hurting everyone. The result is a society full of very busy people avoiding silence and stillness, lest they be confronted with the mental violence head on.

This policy of avoidance does not work. There are people who are mentally ill who have no control and who need our help to protect them from doing harm to themselves or others. But for those of us who have the capability to change our mental patterns and to choose to see ourselves and the world around us differently have an obligation to do so.

I’m not saying everyone should do Yoga and meditate (though I would love to see it!). There are other avenues towards inner peace: religion, therapy, community, to name a few. I’m also not saying that everyone has the support they need or the access to these things. That is an unfortunate reality of modern society. What I am saying is that for there ever to be an end in sight to the senseless violence we have to go to the source. As a wise person once said, you can only begin at the beginning: ourselves.

May all beings be happy

May all beings be safe

May all beings be at peace

May all beings know silence without mental violence

May all beings be free.

* Album: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers. Song: Incomplete and Insecure


The Divine Mother

Mother’s Day is this weekend in the US and other countries around the world. It has gone through quite a few evolutions to arrive at the completely secular version that we observe today, which is focused on celebrating  individual mothers.

What would eventually become Mother’s Day as we know it was originally Mothers Peace Day, created by Julia Ward Howe.  It was a day calling mothers to action in the pursuit of peace, bringing an end to war and what she saw as sons of mothers killing other sons of mothers.

In various ancient traditions there have been celebrations, not of individual women, but of the Feminine Divine or the Divine Mother. The Egyptians honored the goddess Isis, the Greeks honored Rhea, and early European Christians honored the Church. In Hinduism, this energy of Divine Mother is personified as Shakti.

Shakti represents creativity, fertility, change, and empowerment. Basically, the stuff of life.

This is my first Mother’s Day as a mother and I am looking forward to being spoiled by my spouse and son (and the years of macaroni art that lie undoubtedly in my future). There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the individual mamas in our lives whom we appreciate. But I also wish that Mother’s Day still encompassed something bigger.

I love the idea of a day that is about mothers joining together to use their compassion, wisdom, and skill to work towards peace.  As mothers, we have the best possible reason to want to put an end to wars and aggression that make childless mothers out of so many. By collectively tapping into shakti we can use the energy to creatively effect change and produce conditions favorable to peace.

We use this energy to create and raise humans. Surely we can use it to guide those humans towards a more harmonious existence. The fact is that shakti exists in all things and in each of us. We all, irrespective of gender, have the energy of the Divine Mother within.

Perhaps this Mother’s Day we can honor ourselves and other mothers, not simply as individuals, but as the embodiment of the feminine Divine. Part of the greater whole that connects us all in peace and love.

Wishing all a divine and peaceful Mother’s Day!

Shanti, Shanti, Shanti



Tis the Season

Happy Holidays my dear yogis and yoginis!          

This is the time of year when we are meant to slow down a bit and focus on the things that truly matter: family, friends, sharing good food and drink, gratitude, joy, peace and goodwill towards all. Of course, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes the holidays have the opposite of the intended effect and can bring out the worst in people. Isn’t it funny how the very things and people that can bring us so much enjoyment can also be the source of so much anxiety?

The great thing, though, about the holidays, is that they happen every year, so every year is an opportunity to be our best selves. Focusing on gratitude, joy, peace and goodwill throughout the entire year is a pretty good way of ensuring that when the holidays roll around, we will already be in the swing of things. Waiting until November to start is a bit like beginning training for a marathon the week before you’re supposed to run.

Yoga is such great training for this marathon of life. Through our practice we learn to let go, experience joy, cultivate patience, feel gratitude, and create peace. We focus all of these good things inwards first, so that we can then go out into the world and exude them in our lives.

So for this holiday season I wish for you to be filled with gratitude for all the good in your life; to experience immense joy; to discover an inner peace that melts away all anxiety and frustrations; and to feel that warm sensation of compassion and goodwill towards all.

Many blessings to you and yours.

Om Shanti Om